Stories about Australia’s
wine glut and the pending demise of many grape growers have become as regular
as killer toys and police leave being cancelled at Christmas. There’s nothing
special about the local industry’s predicament though – it’s just another
contribution to the international oversupply.

Overnight the EU has proposed radical (by
their standards) reforms to try to drain the continent’s growing wine lake
before it starts drowning taxpayers. Brussels wants to
pay farmers to rip out vines, decimating the industry over the next five years,
as well as major changes in the way European wine is made and marketed.

The irony for Australian producers is that
the EU is now suggesting a move away from geographical names for wine to grape
varieties – the very thing France
forced the Australian industry to do.

Reports the BBC:

Other suggestions include subtle changes to techniques governing
winemaking, such as the permitted levels of sugar and alcohol. This, it is
argued, would allow European producers room to innovate by embracing techniques
used by US, Australian and South African wine producers – flavouring wine with
wood chips, for example.

To make European wine more recognisable to consumers, labelling
could be altered to allow greater prominence for familiar grape types – such as
Chardonnay – rather than geographical origin.

Mariann Fisher Boel, EU commissioner for agriculture and rural
development, said Europe
created the best wines in the world but also produced some which no-one wanted.

The grape growers, of course, don’t see it
quite that easily, arguing that ripping out European vines just creates space
for other countries to plant more. The present European system expensively
subsidises the distilling of unwanted wine into ethanol.

It’s all part of a picture that means wine
prices are staying down around the world for as long as anyone can imagine.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey